The redesigned Saab 9-3 convertible has great looks, seats for four and plenty of sass with the Aero's 280-horsepower turbocharged engine.
A less expensive, and less thirsty, turbocharged four-cylinder is also available. Base prices are $39,955 for the four-cylinder and $45,640 for the turbo V-6.
I drove a V-6 from Saab's press fleet, and its sticker price was a hefty $49,780.
Saab said the 2.8-liter V-6 turbo, named as one of the "10 Best Engines" by Ward's AutoWorld magazine, is the most sophisticated turbocharged engine the company has offered. The engine uses a lightweight aluminum cylinder block, an aluminum oil pan and aluminum cylinder heads.
Out on the road, the engine has plenty of muscle. The 280 horsepower is accompanied by 262 pound-feet of torque. One of the things I liked most about this engine is the way it accelerates from low speeds in third or fourth gear. The twin-scroll turbocharger spools up quickly and delivers boost in a very linear way. The engine is much smoother than Saab turbos of 30 years ago and has almost no noticeable lag.
The test car was equipped with the optional six-speed automatic transmission. A six-speed manual is standard.
The 9-3 Aero is a performance car, and it has a fuel mileage rating of 15 mpg in the city and 24 on the highway.
The 9-3 convertible is front-wheel drive, but all-wheel drive is an option on the Sport Sedan and SportCombi station wagon.
The 9-3's styling is simple and clean. The power-operated convertible top slides under a hard tonneau cover for an uncluttered look when the top is down.
Saab designs its gauges to look like the gauges on the instrument panel in an aircraft. The main gauge package is simple and easy to read, but the center stack contains a host of small buttons for operating the climate control and audio systems.
Saab still puts the ignition key on the console by the gearshift, and that takes some acclimation for first-time drivers.
The leather-wrapped steering wheel has controls for audio and cell phone, and these are not only handy but also safe because the driver can keep hands on the wheel while adjusting the radio.
At night, the driver can turn off the lights on all instruments except the speedometer.
Safety has long been a Saab priority, and the 9-3 convertible earned the Top Safety Pick award from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. The seats have second-generation head restraints that move forward to support the occupants' heads in the event of a rear-end collision. Front and side airbags are standard. Traction control, anti-lock brakes and vehicle stability control are standard as well.
The test car had a base price of $45,640. Options included memory driver's seat, automatic transmission, heated seats, headlamp washers, a tan top and rear parking sensors. The sticker price was $49,780.
Four years or 50,000 miles with a five-year, 100,000-mile powertrain warranty.
2008 Saab 9-3 Aero
Engine: 2.8-liter, 280-hp V-6
Curb weight: 3,880 lbs.
Base price: $45,640
As driven: $49,780
MPG rating: 15 city, 24 hwy.
To contact Tom Strongman, send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.